Native Americans and Property Rights:

Economist Terry Anderson, an expert on Native American issues, has an interesting op ed pointing out that the dire poverty of many Indian tribes could be partly alleviated by strengthening protection for private property rights:

Two vital steps in this direction are to strengthen property rights and the rule of law on reservations. Virtually every study of international development shows that both of these are crucial to prosperity. Indian country is no different. The effect of insecure property rights is evident on a drive through any western reservation. When you see 160 acres overgrazed and a house unfit for occupancy, you can be sure the title to the land is held by the federal government bureaucracy. In contrast, when you see irrigated land in cultivation with farm implements, a barn and well-kept house, you can be sure the land is held in fee simple, whether by an Indian or non-Indian.

Land tenure in Indian country is complicated thanks to laws, dating back to the 19th century, which put millions of acres of tribal and individual Indian land under the trusteeship of the Interior department's Bureau of Indian Affairs. These lands cannot be sold, used as collateral, easily inherited, or managed productively. Instead of giving Indians more federal welfare, Mr. Obama has the opportunity to increase their autonomy. It is, after all, their land. Let them manage it, borrow against it, and make it productive.

Like many property teachers, I sometimes encounter the persistent myth that Native Americans don't believe in private property, had no concept of property rights before Europeans arrived, and so on. But, as Anderson explained in this 1997 article, many Indian tribes used property rights for a wide range of purposes long before whites arrived. Ironically, the myth of Native American hostility to property rights was first developed by 18th and 19th century whites as a justification for dispossessing Indians of their land on the grounds that they didn't really own it. In the 20th century, the myth was taken up by some left-wing environmentalists and others in order to show that Native Americans had a supposedly superior collectivist ethic that whites should emulate.